A guide for employers on navigating the festive season challenges

Christmas can be a notoriously tricky time for employers, with numerous social events and of course the inevitable office Christmas party. How can you deal with these situations if something gets out of hand? What do you do about calculating employees’ holiday allowance for the festive period? Our mini guide below will help you overcome these common pitfalls.

Preventing harassment at social events without the “bah humbug”!

This is a timely reminder that, legally, most staff gatherings should be covered under the employer’s usual disciplinary, grievance and other protocols, whether it’s the annual Christmas jamboree or an office manager inviting his/her team out to works’ drinks.

With the TUC reporting that 52% of women have been sexually harassed at work, it pays to ensure Christmas parties don’t get out of control.  When a case of sexual harassment is proved the repercussions can be huge, with awards running to the tens of thousands and significant reputational damage.

The Chief Executive of the Equality Commission has reminded employers to ensure they not only have appropriate policies in place surrounding sexual harassment, but that those policies are being implemented.

We recommend that you maintain a clear policy on workplace social events as part of your duty of care towards your staff, and as a matter of good practice.

Because an office Christmas party is a “social event” the common assumption is that an employer is not liable for anything that happens, and likewise, an employee cannot be disciplined for anything that happened. However, case law has held that social events held immediately after work, even if away from the workplace, fall within the “course of employment”. Similarly, an employee can be disciplined for misconduct arising out of a Christmas party if it is sufficiently closely connected to have impacted on the working situation.

Festive holiday – how can you manage this?

Many employees will want time off over Christmas for family events, religious services or holidays. It can be difficult for employers to manage all its employees’ requests and, inevitably, you cannot please everyone! Acas have produced guidance on how to manage holiday requests and answer some common misconceptions.

Christmas Day and Boxing Day this year fall on a Monday and Tuesday respectively and are therefore Bank Holidays. Employees do not have a statutory right to have either day away from work or as paid time off unless the employment contract says differently. Paid public holidays can be counted as part of an employee’s statutory annual leave.

Employees do not have a statutory right to paid leave for public holidays – whether an employee has a right to the leave depends on the contract. 

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